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A WOMAN'S PLACE IN 2004 ELECTION COVERAGE:
STEREOTYPES AND FEMINIST INROADS
Therese L. Lueck
School of Communication
The University of Akron
Akron, OH 44325-1003
330-972-7600 or 6093
[log in to unmask]
Commission on the Status of Women
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
San Antonio, Texas
A WOMAN'S PLACE IN 2004 ELECTION COVERAGE:
STEREOTYPES AND FEMINIST INROADS
Covering the latter stages of the 2004 presidential election, two
Ohio newspapers and The New York Times relied on much the same
framing to represent women on their front pages. Despite females in
bylines, female sources were rare in front-page news articles.
Females in photos tended to be relatives of the candidates, faces in
the crowd or children. Contrasting the newspaper framing with
coverage by a feminist media source revealed an alternative context
in which the importance of women voters was established and women's
issues and sources were used to enhance this credibility.
A WOMAN'S PLACE IN 2004 ELECTION COVERAGE:
STEREOTYPES AND FEMINIST INROADS
In the fall of 2004, newspapers were helping readers, a.k.a.
potential voters, to sort through the issues in a contentious
presidential election and to define the qualities of national
leadership. October was the month of the presidential debates, which
featured only the top contenders of the two major political parties,
effectively squelching other voices of third-party opposition. With
polls showing an evenly divided electorate, campaign focus was drawn
to key blocs of voters, particularly women.
Nowhere was coverage of the election more important than in the key
swing state of Ohio. The state's pivotal role had a nation's eyes
focused on it, as well as those of the Bush and Kerry campaigns. Both
candidates repeatedly visited the state, which kept election coverage
on Ohio fronts during the time between the election and the debates,
one of which took place in Cleveland. Late-term issues that arose in
Ohio with regard to new voter registration and voter challenges also
took on particular prominence.
Paying particular attention to the roles and representation of women
in the unfolding election story, this analysis investigates how the
latter stages of the national campaign coverage were framed for
newspaper readers of Northeast Ohio, a densely populated region of
Ohio with heavy newspaper penetration.
Synthesis of the Literature
Framing literature points to the fact that how media cover stories
is as important as what stories they cover. In a description of
framing theory, Entman noted that a framing process was inherent in
the selection and emphasis of some aspects over others, which are
practices journalists routinely employ to express the newsworthiness
of events and the salience of issues. Over the past decade, a number
of studies have used framing theory to examine news content.
Contemporary studies have built on Tuchman's early feminist
observations on how women's issues were framed to develop a body
of research that discusses how women and women's issues are framed in
news coverage. A recent study examined how a newspaper trade
publication covered Civil Rights. Through this research, Endres
found a close connection between the trade magazine and the values of
the industry it covered, particularly in its reliance on "the close
knit primarily male -- newspaper community. In the few instances
where another perspective was offered, the comments and/or
perspectives of women (outsiders to the industry) were trivialized
and used as evidence to delegitimize Title VII."
A recent framing study that compared print and broadcast news found a
consistency among how the newspapers framed their coverage of the
9/11 attacks. That study also found that the newspapers used more
diverse sources than did broadcast in their coverage of the national
crises. In a further examination of expert sources, another recent
study found a predominance of men and male sources in news stories.
It also found that having a female in a byline was a predictor of
having females in the story.
Modeled on the "Women, Men and Media" studies that gauged women's
representation on newspaper front pages, this study noted women when
they appeared in front page bylines, photos and expert-source
references for one month. To address the purpose of this study's
focus on the campaign, however, the presence of women was gauged
specific to the national election coverage; other front-page stories
were not included. The method was employed using one national
newspaper, the New York Times, and the two major newspapers from the
region under examination, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Akron Beacon
Journal. National election coverage on these news fronts was charted
Mondays through Fridays during the month of October 2004, the
calendar month prior to November's presidential election.
After the presence of women in bylines, photos and references in the
election articles had been noted, a qualitative analysis was
performed to determine how the stories were framed and to assess
whether the Ohio coverage was consistent with a national media
discussion. An alternative news source, Women's eNews, was used to
provide a feminist media counterpoint to the mainstream newspaper
coverage in order to help focus the analysis on coverage of salient
women's issues throughout the month. According to its mission
statement, Women's eNews is an independent news service. It was
founded in 2000 "to bridge the gender gap in media coverage of issues
of particular concern to women."
The main research question this analysis sought to answer was: "How
was the presidential election framed in three newspapers in October
2004 with regard to women's roles and representation?"
Election coverage in the fall of 2004 was driven by the actions and
utterances of the two primary players, George W. Bush and John F.
Kerry, both white males. Because of Ohio's value as a key swing
state, the candidates were paying particular attention to the state.
In addition to campaign appearances throughout the rest of Ohio by
Republican incumbent Bush and Democratic nominee Kerry, each of them
made at least three stops in Northeast Ohio during October. These
appearances came in addition to an area visit that month by former
first lady Barbara Bush, Cleveland's hosting of the vice presidential
debate and a visit by Democratic vice-presidential candidate John
Edwards to the city of Canton, where Bush had spoken in July. Late in
October, Bush would return to that city, since Canton, Ohio, and its
surrounding Stark County, was considered a microcosm of national
The numerous Ohio visits by the leading candidates and their
supporters provided local staffers with reporting and photo
opportunities that had the potential to engage the local
readers/voters. The Akron Beacon Journal had a woman regularly
assigned to cover local election stories, plus other women reporters
who supplemented the coverage with features. The Plain Dealer had
several women staffers writing election stories, primarily local
reaction features. Both the Ohio newspapers also used syndicated
stories, particularly when events originated outside Ohio. One major
source for this syndicated copy was The New York Times, which used
women writers for its front-page election coverage about 30 percent
of the time.
Other issues vied with the national election for newsworthiness
during the month. Throughout October, the debates and whistle-stops
competed for front-page headlines with the war in Iraq. News also
included other elections, from local races to the election in
Afghanistan and planned voting in Iraq. Early in the month the
announcement ran that the pain-killing drug Vioxx was being pulled
from the shelves. The national flu vaccine shortage was news, even on
Ohio front pages despite the fact that local authorities were cited
as saying that they had received their full shipments. Popular
celebrities died, including actor Christopher Reeve.
Eleventh-hour campaigning also shared the stage with the boys of
summer. The Boston Red Sox as challenger and eventual victor in the
World Series captured East Coast headlines. Although football
occasionally made it to the Cleveland front page, the city's
professional baseball team had been knocked out of contention far
earlier than October, which enabled Northeast Ohio newspapers to
devote potential sports space to other issues, making room for
locally driven issues that would keep the national election on their
front pages. Economic news also captured headlines in Northeast Ohio,
which included announcements of area factory closings and job losses.
Election-related issues gained attention, with front-page focus on
those that arose during the latter stages of the campaign, such as an
anticipated high voter turnout and ballot challenges. Overworked,
underpaid poll workers became the typical focus of the large voter
turnout issue. Legal challenges to balloting in Ohio provided news
and features that supplemented the candidate-driven election
coverage, highlighting pronouncements by Ohio's secretary of state,
problems with provisional ballots and the foibles of fraudulent voter
Noting that the voter-registration deadline had come, the New York
Times ran a new-voter feature on October 4. This feature, which had a
female in the byline, did not emphasize a gender breakdown, but used
a frame that emphasized the notion that this surge of new voters
could tax the polling resources of the swing states, a frame widely
adopted in other coverage of the issue. The story used a male source
in the fourth paragraph and jumped the story to the inside in the
middle of a second expert source's quote two paragraphs later, so
that a reader would have had to follow the jump to find out that the
second quote was attributed to a woman.
Articles reported unethical tactics of canvassers such as the person
who obtained voter signatures by offering illegal drugs. When roster
checks of newly registered voters began turning up familiar names,
the Plain Dealer ran mug shots of some of the most well known on its
October 19 front Michael Jordan, George Foreman, and Dick Tracy, as
well as one of actor Julie Andrews over the cutline "Poppins."
Although the women in the candidates' lives occasionally made it onto
the front page because of their campaign appearances and women were
sometimes captured in crowd shots, Mary Poppins was the only female
to make into election-story photos on the Cleveland front that day.
On a day that carried no other front-page election news than a box
detailing that night's final presidential debate, the Plain Dealer
carried a story by two female staffers about new voters. The
below-the-fold story put the focus on urban voters, designating that
emphasis by the fact that, at this point in the tabulations, over
half of Ohio's new voters resided in eight "urban counties." To
support this angle, the writers used Cleveland's NAACP president,
George Forbes, as an expert source saying that these "fresh
registrants" could determine the outcome of Ohio's vote. The writers
provided the context that "signs of a heavy surge of new urban voters
could add up to immense pull for Democratic-leaning central cities on
That same day, Women's eNews framed the new-voter phenomenon
differently. The alternative online newsletter ran a lead article on
women voters, highlighting the importance of the female electorate by
using as an expert source the president of the National Organization
for Women, Kim Gandy, who noted that women constitute 54 percent of
the population, 55 percent of the registered voters and 60 percent of
the electorate. Relying on Gandy, the article added that "women as a
group tend to make their decisions late in the game and are therefore
a high percentage about two-thirds of swing voters." This
article also had a different news point. Citing women's interest in
the event, the Women's eNews article reported on the "rally on the
steps of the Supreme Court on its opening day Monday to warn women
that their right to have an abortion hangs in the balance in this
year's presidential election."
In the absence of breaking election news on October 11, the New York
Times kept the election alive with a lone feature on its front page
about black voters. Later in the month, an above-the-fold article on
its October 25 front featured the efforts of Kerry and former vice
president Albert Gore, Jr. to appeal to the African-American voters.
This story ran with a below-the-fold photo of Gore pictured speaking
in front of black boys and girls in various postures of fidgeting and
non-attention. That day, a woman was the subject of a below-the-fold
story on undecided voters. The male writer used a mother who worked
as a nurse and who voiced concern about the high cost of health care
as a personification of the five- to six-percent of voters who had
not yet made up their minds. The framing of this feature was in
keeping with the coverage that the feminist news source was providing.
Women's eNews had earlier reported Pew survey data that indicated
that women under 50 vacillated heavily in their presidential choice.
A Pew source noted that these women "favor Kerry on most domestic
issues, but they favor Bush on security." Another pollster warned
about the "marriage gap," because married women's support of Bush was
predicted to be stronger than that of single women, considered "the
most unpredictable" population targeted for the upcoming election.
The article noted that, according to a university study, only 22
percent of the women between 20 and 30 years old described themselves
as "regular voters." Women's eNews quoted a non-profit group,
"Organizers say neither candidate stirs these women on the issues
that top their concerns: child care, equal pay and healthcare."
The alternative lead article relied on U.S. Census information to
remind readers of "the voting power of women who represent over
half of the U.S. electorate and have voted at higher rates than men
since 1980." The story noted, however, that much data and opinion in
the mainstream depicted women voters as a mystery, particularly young
women. To help explain this mystery, the article offered pollsters'
concerns that many young women were missed in polls because they used
cell phones, which were not incorporated into random-dialing surveys.
The female electorate was said to be targeted, but real women often
remained a mystery on the front pages, where a myth of the security
mom seemed to hold sway.
A population of key male voters was defined as "NASCAR dads." These
were men whose conservative values and interests were said to not be
being addressed in the national discussion. Much as the sport had
expanded beyond the bounds of its Southern origins, this labeling
repositioned the car-racing enthusiasts more generally as rural
Americans. And conventional wisdom was proposing that a targeted
counterpart was "the security moms."
The soccer mom had "morphed" into the security mom, a myth with
particular pull on the popular psyche since having appeared in Time
magazine the previous year. That article gave credit to
"Republican pollster David Winston" as "one of the first to identify
the shift from Soccer Mom to Security Mom." In October 2004,
Women's eNews took up the issue of the myth, noting "Anna Greenberg,
vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, wrote in a Sept.
23 memo on the company's Web site that the whole idea of the
'security mom' is a myth that 'profoundly misrepresent(s) who women
are and what they worry about politically.'
"'Women are diverse,' she added, 'and trying to characterize them as
a monolithic group with unified set of political views misses the mark.'"
In its 2003 Security Moms article, Time had reported the findings of
a Time/CNN poll that showed the majority of women who had children
under 18 years old were more worried about national security than
they had been before the attacks of 9/11, and many of them felt that
strengthening homeland security against domestic terrorism was
extremely important. The security that these moms identified with was
that of the homefront, and it fit neatly into the stereotypical
framing of hearth, home, and the vulnerability of women and children.
The Time article included poll responses in boxes throughout the
article, among them: "Do you think the war with Iraq has made
terrorist attacks in the U.S. more likely or less likely, or hasn't
it made any difference?" While 67 percent had said they were
convinced that the president could handle terrorism, 47 percent of
the moms responded to this question by saying that the war had made
domestic terrorist attacks "more likely," a response more than 15
percentage points higher than that of males or female non-mom
respondents. The Time article did not pursue in-depth discussion of
this domestic vs. foreign distinction, but concluded, "For their own
security, both parties are scrambling to listen and respond to
women like [the security mom]." Over the following year, as the myth
took firmer hold, this lack of domestic vs. foreign distinction
provided a fulcrum on which to tilt the balance away from exploring a
woman-defined domestic agenda toward debating the war in Iraq and the
men's war-related pasts. While the candidates themselves, despite a
few well publicized appeals to women, pushed forward an agenda that
defined security largely in terms of the ongoing American-led war in
Iraq, newspaper coverage followed this male-dominant framing of the
The reframing of the domestic agenda was evident from the first of
the month, with coverage of the first presidential debate.
Male-bylined New York Times coverage led with the fact that the
candidates "clashed over national security" in "the opening minutes"
of the debate, but noted that they quickly turned their attention
from domestic terrorism to the war against terrorism being waged
abroad. The Plain Dealer carried a version of this New York Times
story as its lead story on October 1 as well. In packaging the debate
coverage, the Plain Dealer ran a pull quote from each of the two
candidates at the bottom of its front page. Kerry's quote revealed
his attempt to distinguish homeland security from a global war on
terror: "We also have to be smart … and smart means not diverting our
attention from the war on terror and taking it off to Iraq." Relying
on patriotic sentiment, Bush's quote reinforced the notion of him as
leader: "I don't think you can lead if you say wrong war, wrong time,
wrong place. What message does that send to our troops?" Mid-month,
the Plain Dealer reported "the president jettisoned all talk of
domestic affairs" in favor of honing attacks against Kerry. This
Washington Post piece with a female in the byline noted that Kerry
fell into line, blasting Bush on his mismanagement of Iraq, and that
this departure in Kerry's Florida speech "overshadowed his planned
focus on health care." 
With this shift in the framing of the issues, women were left at the
hearth holding their domestic agenda. At this juncture, the
candidates' women were brought to out encourage the women voters to
stand by their man as the discussion moved toward war. The declared
intention of discussing a domestic agenda provided the opportunity
for the women to make appearances, and by appearing with the
candidates to garner prominent news coverage. The women were a focal
point that cast a patina of credibility on the candidates'
short-lived approach to domestic issues. In its coverage of the last
debate, the Beacon Journal ran a photo of the wives hugging in the
foreground while Bush and Kerry shook hands. This two-column photo
ran on the fold, below two large head shots of the candidates in
partial profile. Next to the men's photos ran a male-bylined debate
analysis syndicated from the New York Times, the lead of which noted
that Bush smiled, since his demeanor in previous debates had "done
little to attract independent voters and particularly
women" The article cited evidence of a "gentler" Bush in
mentioning that he talked about education.
Also beside the over-sized head shots of the candidates the Beacon
ran syndicated Knight Ridder debate coverage. The article, with two
male bylines, began with typical "he said, he said" coverage, and,
after the lead in, to show how aggressive and "well versed in numbers
and details of domestic programs" each candidate was, the writers
noted that toward the end of the debate "each man talked gently about
his love for his wife and daughters." Below the fold, a local
article by a female Beacon staffer reported on Ohio's plans to make
use of a 1953 law to allow for challengers, or people who sit in the
polls during an election in order to challenge a person's right to vote.
With talk of the war came talk of the two candidates' pasts, with
each side trying to gain the advantage in the sparring that had
become characteristic of the campaign's discourse. During the last
month of the race, the past was brought into the present with
campaign stops and photo opportunities. Newspapers carried photos of
Kerry's Ohio hunting trip. The candidate who had volunteered for
combat duty in his youth posed with a gun in an attempt to replace
the notion that he was weak with the impression that he could protect
a nation. For this "shoot," Kerry did not carry a combat weapon. It
was a shotgun. The typical front-page photo that day showed Kerry not
taking aim but carrying the gun. Although, as he walked in camouflage
with his hunting party, he carried the gun in an appropriate and safe
manner broken down and slung over his arm -- the spectacle of a
limp gun may not have been the message Democrats had intended to convey.
A Women's eNews commentary observed that young people recognized
that such depictions departed "not only from reality, but also from
common sense." They dismissed the gender stereotyping of the
presidential campaigns, in which "leadership equals strength and
strength is identified with the tough guy; the Rambo patriot."
Acknowledging that everyone, including the candidates, conceded that
leadership in contemporary global society was more sophisticated than
brute strength, the writer noted, "Being at war only partly explains
this campaign season's appeal to hyper-masculine stereotypes" and
hypothesized that the stereotypes hold power because most people
"still harbor at least the residues of belief that even in a
democracy, strong, manly men are the best ones to be in charge."
Locked out of leadership itself "women are either almost totally
absent (Kerry), or pandered to in saccharine sideshows created to
complement the macho dramas on center stage (Bush's 'W is for Women'
effort). Again and again, gender stereotypes in this campaign have
crowded out the opinions of real women and men" while the "political
scene unearths gender-related fears and anxieties." The writer noted
that the campaign reliance on stereotyping was often carried over
into the mainstream press.
No women in camouflage traipsed across the front pages in the hunting party.
But beside its photo of Kerry hunting in Ohio, the New York Times ran
a photo of Bush in Pennsylvania with his daughter Barbara. The photo
captured a view from the side of the stage showed Bush standing with
his legs spread, his face turned away from his daughter and toward
the back of the stage as if responding to a jocular aside. Meanwhile,
his daughter stood at the front of the stage smiling, her hands
poised on the podium. The podium, however, was at the edge of the
photo, and placement of the photo in the upper-left corner of the
page had Barbara at the podium facing off the page, smiling into an
audience of white space.
In addition to the October 22 photo of daughter Barbara, women could
be identified in several of the New York Times' front-page election
crowd shots, which was the way women often made it into
election-coverage photos. On a Plain Dealer front, women could be
seen at a local Bush rally as part of a crowd that sported placards
that formed a large red "W." The accompanying article by two male
staffers noted, "Bush said he can better protect America against
terrorism and guide it to a full economic recovery."
Women-as-audience in front-page photos can signify
women-as-voting-public, and as such deserves close scrutiny. Beyond
women related to the candidates and as anonymous fans in the crowd,
where were the women voters?
In the Beacon Journal the females who shared the election spotlight
were often under voting age, as detailed in an October 21 cutline
that identified two girls at a campaign event only as "future
voters." Speaking in Canton, Edwards appeared as a blur in the
foreground, while the photo directed readers' attention to the slice
of audience behind him. The two white female "future voters" were
above the fold, with the younger girl gleefully showing a digital
photo to the other, who paused to admire it. Near them, other
audience members, white and black, male and female, and mostly older,
faced forward and displayed serious countenances. A reader is left to
presume that Edwards had just turned around and that the girl had
captured him in that moment, honing both her fan and her photography skills.
Another Beacon front was dominated by a cute, blonde-haired toddler.
Perched atop her head at a jaunty angle, a white cap spelled out a
red-and-blue "We (heart) Bush." She held a "Bush Cheney '04" bumper
sticker above her head. Identified in the October 28 cutline only as
a "young supporter," her first name can be surmised from the portion
of her sweatshirt showing "Danielle Prays For:" The election article
by the regular female staffer reported that, locally, legal hearings
on the challenges that the Ohio Republican Party had made to voters'
registrations would go forward, although the majority of the 35,000
challenges filed across the state the previous week had been
dismissed, withdrawn, or put on hold by a federal restraining order.
Bush and Kerry were both making Ohio appearances at the end of
October, but the following day's Beacon Journal front showed two
older, white women with a problem. Their serious expressions
dominated the Beacon's front page as one clutched her utility bills
and asserted her right to vote. The article by the female staffer
followed the story of the hearings of nearly one thousand local voter
challenges. The Beacon's other election story below the fold was
by a male staffer and detailed a different type of "challenge." That
article reported on the county Democrats' lawsuit that attempted to
bar challengers from polling sites. At the bottom of the page, two
male staffers covered Kerry's and Bush's travels across the state,
highlighting Bruce Springsteen's performance in Columbus in support
of Kerry and Bush's appearance with high-ranking military personnel
in a Cleveland suburb.
In the Cleveland Plain Dealer, women were nearly absent from
front-page election photos that month, with the exception of the head
shot of "Mary Poppins" and two other instances. Women were included
in two photos below the fold in the Plain Dealer's coverage of
Cleveland's vice presidential debate. In one photo, Bush-Cheney
supporters chanted. In the photo below that, women in white lab coats
were leading a group of demonstrators. The cutline, which identified
the women by name and by their status as second-year medical
students, noted that these students at Case Western Reserve
University, the site of the debate, rallied "in favor of health-care reform."
These medical students used the opportunity, or "hoopla," to showcase
their concerns, and the newspaper obliged with a visual on its front
page. The accompanying story was by the female staffer who wrote
local reaction features on the election events. In contrast to the
medical demonstration in the photo, the feature emphasis was on
"spectacle." After describing the "carnival-like" atmosphere and
noting the "humorous bent" of the gathering, the writer focused on
sorority sisters who were hosting a dart throw at political
targets. The only photo to prominently feature female "voters"
that month on a Plain Dealer front was neither focused on the federal
election nor adult women. The large, above-the-fold photo October 15
featured girls screaming their support at a local American-Idol-type concert.
The majority of the front-page election stories carried male
bylines, both in the national newspaper, the New York Times and in
the two Northeast Ohio newspapers, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the
Akron Beacon Journal. The top of the election articles relied on male
sources and election front-page photos most often depicted men.
Women voters were said to be key to winning the presidential
election, but the issue was not generally considered mainstream
front-page news during October. The alternative source, Women's
eNews, however, regularly pointed out that women constituted the
majority of the electorate, that they tended to dominate the "swing
vote" and that those voters tended to make up their minds late in the
race. This type of coverage informed its audience of the importance
of women voters and pointed to the logic of engaging women during the
latter stages of the campaign coverage.
It was the rare October newspaper front that ran no election news. On
the few occasions of no direct national election news, the newspapers
often used features to keep the election at the top of the public's
agenda. These features did not generally rely on women's issues as
their subject matter; although, meanwhile, Women's eNews kept women's
issues alive with its coverage of abortion, welfare, breast cancer
(especially with October as Breast Cancer Awareness month), and the
candidates' positions on issues such as reproduction rights. As much
as national lip service said women were important, women only
appeared important as voters if they abandoned their domestic agendas
and got on board with what was really considered important to the nation.
The main research question this analysis sought to answer was: "How
was the presidential election framed in three newspapers in October
2004 with regard to women's roles and representation?"
Today, women are in the newsroom and often involved in various
decision-making, women are on the front page, and in October 2004,
women participated in crafting the election coverage, most visibly on
the fronts in terms of their presence in bylines. Yet, the appeal of
these newspaper fronts in October was predominantly stereotypical
when it came to representing women in the election coverage. Despite
feminist inroads, reliance on dated stereotyping marginalized the
electoral majority and their issues. Little evidence of the
unprecedented efforts to register new voters and identify women's
concerns appeared on the front pages in the month prior to the
The female electorate was said to be targeted, yet at the same time
unknowable. Despite the fact that profiles of women voters neatly fit
the very audience that newspapers have been struggling for decades to
regain, this mainstream coverage was little better at demystifying
the female voter than were the candidates themselves. Framing the
coverage to fit the prevailing myth of the "security mom" and
outsourcing the domestic agenda to the global war on terror worked,
even in Northeast Ohio where new cracks in the infrastructure
surfaced daily. The newspapers satisfied the short-term goals of
deadline election coverage, but in adhering to male-dominant framing
they may have squandered an opportunity to build a long-term
relationship with women readers by performing their civic duty of
engaging the majority of the electorate.
Each of the papers seemed careful not to allow photo opportunities
of the candidates to become overtly promotional or to edge out other
news entirely, even the Ohio papers as the state became saturated
with celebrities. Yet, editors could not resist traditional appeals
to readers, depicting females as cute children or adolescents.
However, the Beacon ended the month with two angry women. These women
were serious because they had a problem. Future studies might look at
such women in terms adapted from Clint Wilson and Felix Gutierrez's
stages of minority incorporation in news coverage, in which minority
populations gained coverage when they were perceived as problems to
the existing social order.
In answering the main research question, secondary questions
emerged: "Was the framing consistent across the newspapers?" and "How
was national leadership framed?"
Despite the local staffing for local angles on election coverage in
the Ohio papers, a consistent framing was maintained across the
papers, which showed feminist inroads in terms of staffing and some
content but far less with regard to institutional framing. Endres
noted that a trade publication shared male-based values with the
national industry it covered. In this instance, the newspapers fell
into stride with the male-based national process they covered. With
the election narrowed down to two major candidates and the debates
falling during the month of October, much of the front-page coverage
across the newspapers relied on a "he said, he said" structure that
highlighted quotes in a sparring fashion between the two candidates.
As a result, quotes from others did not frequently appear in the
election's breaking news. Therefore, when expert sources were used
high in articles, it was most often in features. It was through
features that readers could perhaps best glimpse real women. For
example, a New York Times feature that used a woman subject to
personify undecided voters went a long way toward demystifying this
group of the female electorate. But lone features without
complementary news coverage that provides a persistent context to
reinforce the importance of women voters could not sustain
credibility in the mainstream. Alternatively, Women's eNews created a
sustainable context by relying on survey data and other breaking news
on women's issues to remind readers that women constituted the
majority of the electorate.
Absent such a context, a feature, regardless of its relevance, runs
the risk of being handily dismissed as an anomaly. In this instance,
the profile, being read by the vast majority who staunchly supported
one candidate over the other, could easily be pigeonholed and
dismissed as a stereotypically frivolous "woman who can't make up her
mind" and as such inessential to the real election news. A reader has
to rely on the media's framing, and a feature that breaks frame does
not carry the weight of newsworthiness.
Women were not central to the national discussion of leadership. The
Ohio hunting photo opportunity that was carried on front pages across
the nation showed Kerry as impotent against protecting the womenfolk
against terrorism in their own backyard. This visual depiction was
consistent with the framing of the text, which indicated that Kerry
was someone who did not have the power to frame the debate. The photo
did, however accord him a certain amount of power because of his sex.
It said that, however he used it, a leader had a gun, thus
metaphorically excluding women as participants in the leadership discussion.
New voter features were used to supplement campaign news coverage,
and their focus in Northeast Ohio was on race, with blacks used in
features to fill in between the hard news of the campaign stories.
Giving the upper hand to the new "urban" (read: African-American)
voters, front-page coverage of the new-voter phenomenon played racial
diversity against gender diversity, demonstrating the typical
handling of diversity as a zero-sum game that pitted gender against
race. In their reliance on such framing, media are perhaps attempting
to make the story easier to cover by engaging in self-fulfilling
prophecies: Writing the beginning of the story in this manner creates
a predictability for covering the unpredictable end of the news
story. For example, coverage of new voters in Ohio was framed as an
urban-voter issue, and then post-election results were reported in
terms of an urban vs. rural split in the voting populations.
The New York Times feature about the undecided female voter was
written by a male. Both male and female reporters covered the
candidates' persistent shifts away from the domestic discussion. Such
occurrences may indicate that decades of feminist activism has had
some effect on industry. Having females in bylines was not
necessarily a predictor of using females in stories; however, the
effect was visible on an individual basis. For example, New York
Times reporter Abby Goodnough regularly used women sources high
enough in her stories that they got front-page play.
New women voters were said to be key to winning the presidential
election, but not on their own terms. Their concerns had to first be
framed in terms of the male-driven agenda. As the press bought into
the stereotype of the mysterious women, throwing its hands up at the
notion of deciphering what women wanted, it left itself open to the
adoption of cultural myths, layering the security mom on top of early
gender stereotyping, burying the data and women's voices. The
mainstream newspapers reframed women's issues to fit male political
tradition and press reportage. In this manner, women were stripped of
any real power and excluded from the discussion of leadership. What
is a mystery is that women vote at all.
Women have been targeted as voters as well as news consumers, but on
the front pages in fall 2004 women remained a mystery. Will women
stay shrouded in mystery? Further research should ask what was
learned about women as voters in this recent election and how
newspapers can apply this knowledge to better appeal to women
readers. In this Internet-driven news era, newspapers must make
online alternative sourcing an integral component of news assessment
and packaging, or they may fall prey to politicians who can count on
influencing them by relying on the predictability of their reliance
on traditional routines in a new media environment. Mainstream
newspapers that do not engage more fully the alternatives available
in the Internet era may leave themselves vulnerable to manipulation
and be doomed to not only lose more women readers but drive away
potential employees, female and male, who are intent on covering the
whole story for the whole of society.
Much as traditional women's pages occasionally siphoned women's news
and women writers off the front page, are alternatives exerting a
similar appeal on established mainstream writers? During October,
women in prominent mainstream news positions, such as Elizabeth
Mehren, New England bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times,
contributed articles to Women's eNews. By the end of October, Women's
eNews was announcing that columnist Ellen Goodman would be appearing
in the alternative news service.
This analysis uncovered indications that, although individual
reports may have more resembled Kerry's unsuccessful attempts to
control the debate, newspaper framing of the election and its issues
more closely mirrored Republican than Democratic framing of the
issues, such as equating the war in Iraq with homeland security and
adopting the security mom myth. Second-level agenda setting research
is well positioned to further investigate whether such collusion
might have foreshadowed the Republican victory. This study and other
research point to the power of the media to frame important issues
and events for contemporary audiences, as well as the responsibility
inherent in framing these stories. As the second term of George W.
Bush foregrounds speculation of how history will remember this
president, researchers may want to explore further the impact that
journalistic framing of contemporary events has had on the culture's
 See, for a notable example, the body of work by Andsager: Julie
Andsanger, "Framing Women's Health with a Sense-Making
Approach: Magazine Coverage of Breast Cancer and Implants," Health
Communication, 13:2 (2001): 163-186; Andsanger, "How Interest Groups
Attempt to Shape Public Opinion with Competing News Frames,"
Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 77:1 (2000): 577-592;
Andsanger, and L. Smiley, "Evaluating the Public
Information: Shaping News Coverage of the Silicone Implant
Controversy," Public Relations Review, 24:2 (1998): 183-201.